Berberine and the Gut-brain Axis | Preventing the Development of Depression


Natural Medicines

Berberine and the Gut-brain Axis | Preventing the Development of Depression

With its anti-inflammatory properties, Berberine may reduce inflammation in the gut and brain, thereby helping curb depression.

By Mark Zuleger-Thyss


Perhaps you have heard about the gut-brain axis and how almost 90% of the body's serotonin is made in the digestive tract. Is this gut-brain connection the missing link in depression?


Gut health and the landscape of the gut microbiota influence many aspects of our health. The gut's connection with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases is strong.


Berberine is a centuries-old compound found in medicinal herbs, used in various traditional therapies, and positively affects the connection between the gut and heart.

There are many over-the-counter supplements filled with promises of better health, and Berberine is one of those in the spotlight. Berberine is noteworthy because it's been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria and lower inflammation which is at the root of many chronic diseases.



Berberine was first utilized thousands of years ago in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, and today it can be found as a natural supplement.

Berberine found in goldenseal, barberry, goldthread, Oregon grape, and tree turmeric has historically been used to treat everything from infection to sores. It is a bright yellow bioactive compound found in many plants' roots, rhizomes, and stem barks. Barberry and goldenseal are often used for similar medicinal purposes because of their Berberine.

Evidence shows that berberine-containing plants were used in South America, the Middle East, and Europe to treat different conditions. Today, Berberine is being investigated to treat high cholesterol and even polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Berberine may also help prevent heart disease and have blood-glucose-lowering capabilities helping prevent type 2 diabetes and manage other types of diabetes. It may even help with cancer symptoms, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, Berberine's antimicrobial, anti-tumor, and anti-inflammatory effects are most attractive to investigators.

Berberine is probably best known for its role in the gut, promoting gut microbial balance. There is renewed interest in many plant-derived substances to influence bacterial management, and Berberine is a leader in that category.


Berberine, Neurotransmitters, and Mood Disorders

Because Berberine affects multiple systems in the brain, researchers have suggested that it could be beneficial in Alzheimer's disease and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Investigations into Berberine and depression have been exceptionally positive. Results suggest berberine supplements may work as well as some antidepressants.




One key group of antidepressants is monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO). These enzymes break down serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in nerve tissue. This produces a lack of neurotransmitters which leads to depression.

Inhibiting MAO increases the levels of critical neurotransmitters in the brain, resulting in improvements in the treatment of depression.


Evidence suggesting that Berberine successfully inhibits MAO led to studies to confirm its antidepressant effects. Subjects were given Berberine for 15 days, and levels of norepinephrine increased by 29%, serotonin by 19%, and dopamine by 52%.


Berberine also reduces inflammation in the brain, which is an underlying factor in the development of depression. For example, it increases the production of certain chemicals in the brain, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein involved in forming new neuronal connections.

Depression and stress reduce the production of BDNF and Berberine appears to help heal the damage of the neuronal tracts, contributing to remission and recovery.


The Gut-brain Axis

It is known that the gut microbiota can produce or stimulate the production of neurotransmitters and other neuroactive compounds, such as serotonin, GABA, and dopamine. When the gut is inflamed due to stress and other lifestyle choices, the production of neurotransmitters can become compromised.



The gut-brain axis is a two-way communication system which means that inflammation in the gut or brain causes inflammation in the other. The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties of Berberine can reduce inflammation in both. This is important because research shows that brain inflammation is an essential underlying factor in depression.


Berberine is a compound extracted from various plants and has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Berberine represents one of the most effective natural supplements available on the market today.

Moreover, Berberine has a positive effect on our nervous system. It has a high antidepressant effect, which may be due to its ability to inhibit the breakdown of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. It also has many positive effects on metabolic disorders such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes.

Extracts and supplements made from Berberine are generally inexpensive, safe, and well-known for their broad antibacterial activities.

Berberine can be found in dietary supplement form. It is all-natural and plant-based, and it's making headlines extolling its many health benefits due to its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.



A Note on Safety

Berberine can cause gastrointestinal irritation in high doses and should be taken in divided doses and with a meal.

Also, Berberine inhibits certain cytochrome enzymes that target many other types of drugs, including certain antibiotics. Inhibiting cytochrome enzymes impacts the liver's detoxification system. Therefore, it is critical to closely monitor patients who are using Berberine if other medications are being used simultaneously.






© 2005 - 2022, Mark Zuleger-Thyss, Garden of Healing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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